observations · online services · The Big Durian

Uber in Jakarta: a blessing for the Big Durian?

I was an avid Uber and Lyft user in the US. It was particularly convenient when my husband and I are travelling, so we don’t have to worry about drinking and driving. Moreover, your driver may even give you really good suggestions for restaurants, bars, etc. We ended up eating at Jacques-Imo’s in New Orleans because our Uber driver told us that was a really good place. And it was indeed a really good place. I still have dreams about that fried soft shell crab over a bed of green tomatoes.

Source: travelingcow.com

Anyway, I was really excited to learn that Uber has finally been launched in Jakarta. At first I was skeptical because the address system in this city is not as established as in the US, especially if you’re looking for a residential area. For an example, if you type in my home address in the app, there are multiple different versions, and only one of them is correct. My solution is to type in the name of a bank located next to my house, which has its exact address listed in the app. Even so, navigation in Indonesia is generally done by description. Want to go to the legendary noodle restaurant Bakmi Aboen? No one knows its real address, but everyone knows that it’s near Bakmi Gang Kelinci. Walk into a small alley next to it and you’ll find it at a dead end. How do you find Bakmi Gang Kelinci? There’s another intricate set of instructions depending on whom you ask and where you ask.

My skepticism was proven true. The first time I tried Uber from my house, the driver called me to ask for the so-called descriptive instructions. It took me about two minutes of talking back and forth to make sure he understood where I was. It has now become a routine of mine to immediately text my incoming driver the specific information on how to find my house. There goes my plan to have Sean Uber everywhere – we’ll have to wait until he’s more fluent in Indonesian and more familiar with the area surrounding our main destinations: home, his future work, Grand Indonesia.

Another head scratcher is that a lot of Uber drivers here do not use their GPS. I guess it’s difficult to drive safely through the busy streets of Jakarta, with the threat of motorbikes, bajaj, pedestrians, etc cutting you off from all direction, and at the same time looking into your phone screen. Most cars I’ve been into so far did not have a mounting device for smartphones. I’ve had to use google maps and personally give directions to the driver. I don’t mind doing this at all, since for safety purpose I’ve been trained to always be alert and know where I am when I’m taking a cab in Jakarta.

The waiting time for your driver to arrive can be pretty grueling. Especially in the area where I work, it is not easy to get from one side of the street to another. If you get a driver who happens to be heading towards the opposite direction from where you are, it might take him 10-15 minutes to find a turnaround. Factor in the traffic and you’ll be waiting for your ride forever. I often couldn’t resist stopping a passing taxi and cancelling my trip. Simply put, if you are pressed for time, Uber might not be a good choice. I’ve read that you can schedule your trip up to 30 days in advance, but I have yet tried it. I’ll update this post once I have more information!

Similar to my taxi experience, most drivers tend to be quiet along the way. I’ve only had one chatty Uber driver, who told me all about his life story. Don’t expect to be offered water or mints either, let alone a charger. If you ask nicely they might let you borrow their charger, but if you use an iPhone forget about it. This is an android city, baby.

At this point you might think I’m a Jakarta Uber hater. Nope. I’ll still use it whenever convenient. It can be damn cheap! Last night it only cost me Rp 23.000 ($1.80) to go from Grand Indonesia to home, while it would be at least 1.5x more to take a cab. During rush hour though, taxis would be a cheaper option compared to the surge price. Uber drivers are also very polite, they do not complain about traffic.

My next mission is to try GrabCar and GoCar. I think I’ll encounter the same issues, but that’s just the art of navigating your way in the Big Durian.

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